- Business-model resilience will take on a new urgency in the post-pandemic world world of work.
- For changes to incorporate resilience and be sustainable, flexibility and a portfolio-based approach to work strategy must be at their heart.
- We need to use automation to create more work for humans, not to take it away.
As the COVID-19 pandemic ebbs and markets and economies re-open, our longstanding focus on efficiency and growth in the workplace will likely give way to one on business-model resilience. This is because we have seen how volatile the world is and we now appreciate the numerous potential discontinuities out there.
When it comes to the workforce and resilience, more specifically, companies will have to balance the great dichotomy of employees seeking certainty and stability with the organisations themselves pursuing flexibility and agility.
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Consequently, we will need a sustainable reset of the workplace, not a short-term one. It will require a new culture and it must be dominated by two major themes: flexibility and a portfolio-based approach to work strategy.
Flexible work as a human capital strategy
While we have been talking about flexible (often translating as “remote”) work for over 50 years, it became a necessity with this crisis. Flexibility is now a given although questions remain about how fast we transition back and to what extent.
One question being asked is: who should return to onsite work? As organisations operate at close to 100% productivity, many will ask why they need to go back to their offices when things get better. What is the rationale for that $1000-a-square-foot office if it does not play an essential role in how we do our work?
Then there is the matter of what onsite work should look like. The new human capital strategy will need to establish clearly what work needs to be done by co-located employees adhering to new rules of social distancing and what work should continue to be done remotely.
It will need to factor in explicitly where there is a return on investment from in-person innovation and collaboration versus working remotely to preserve any productivity gains achieved during the crisis.
In other words, the human capital strategy will need to be far more reflective of the work being performed rather than the job.
A portfolio-based approach to work
Central to accomplishing the aforementioned resilience will be a portfolio-based approach to work strategy; one that continuously taps into multiple options like automation, gig talent, alliances and outsourcing. On top of this, we will need employees to have the right skills in order to diffuse risk, optimise cost and access needed capabilities.
Industries that are seeing a spike in demand during this crisis are taking a new look at gig talent, which ties in with the idea of working flexibly and freely and delivers efficiency during times of uncertain demand.
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We know from previous recessions that companies typically adopt more automation during difficult times as they focus on cost reduction. But as we emerge from the crisis, looking beyond this tactic will be critical; otherwise, we risk a jobless recovery.
Put another way, business leaders will need to apply the creativity and innovation they have demonstrated in the face of this crisis to the ways in which they employ automation. In this vein, companies will do well to focus on three key benefits afforded by automation: the substitution of many repetitive tasks, an augmentation of more variable work and the creation of new work for humans.
We know the post-COVID world will look different and that there will be a huge premium on understanding the new normal. The companies that thrive will be the ones that get the new work equation – flexibility plus agility plus resilience – right.
Few, if any, organisations will be able to fulfil their workforce’s demands for certainty and stability. What they can and should promise, though, is clarity and continued relevance in a changing world.